Ivan Reitman doesn’t have the biggest bungalow on the Universal lot — that honor goes to Steven Spielberg — but it is large enough for an impromptu game of touch football between Reitman and screenwriter Gary Ross. Ross is supposed to be working on Reitman’s next picture, Dave, a comedy about the presidency, but at the moment he’s going long for a pass. With an underhanded toss, the 45-year-old Reitman gently spirals the ball across the room.
That’s hardly the atmosphere one expects here in Reitman world. Ever since last year’s controversial A&E documentary Naked Hollywood, the prolific producer-director has been viewed as something of a screenwriter’s AntiChrist, going through rewrite men like a chain smoker goes through Camels. But for Reitman the film was just the latest case of being misunderstood.
”I’ve had great relations with writers,” Reitman says, a touch plaintively. ”I contribute a lot, and I don’t take credit.” Those contributions have added up to one remarkable track record. According to Reitman, his films, which include both Ghostbusters, Twins, and Kindergarten Cop, have grossed some $2.5 billion worldwide, making his box office record among directors second only to that of the guy with the bigger bungalow, Spielberg. Still, Reitman remains the Rodney Dangerfield of Hollywood, never quite getting any respect.
Maybe his enormous commercial success is part of the problem. Critics see his movies as ”intellectually weak,” says the Czech-born Reitman, who believes he would have been more at home making comedies in the ’40s, when directors like Billy Wilder were appreciated for ”just a straightforward way of telling a good story.”
It’s not just that Reitman’s style — or lack thereof — fails to send critics into throes of ecstasy, it’s the type of comedies he makes. ”It’s been relatively broad comedy starting with Animal House, which I produced (in 1978),” says Reitman. ”It’s somewhat sophomoric, it deals with broad things.” His latest production, the family comedy Beethoven, is a case in point. While other, more highly touted films have come and gone, Beethoven has doggedly hung in the top 10, grossing more than $43 million in eight weeks (it’s at No. 6 this week).
Universal chief Tom Pollock, who began representing Reitman as a lawyer back in the mid-’70s, says, ”What he was canny about then and what he is still extremely canny about is what works — what audiences will like.” And if critics haven’t cottoned to him, those whose careers Reitman has helped are fiercely loyal. ”He is, without a doubt, largely responsible for the success of my career,” says Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in Reitman’s 1988 Twins, the film that changed Schwarzenegger from Arnold the action hero into Arnold the comic actor. ”He had the foresight that, yes, I could be good in comedies,” Schwarzenegger adds. ”He really guided me through it.” Dan Aykroyd, who starred in both Ghostbuster films, feels similarly. ”All I have to say about Ivan Reitman,” says Aykroyd, ”is, when do I get to work with him again?”
Reitman’s run hit a snag in 1986 when he produced and directed Legal Eagles, starring Robert Redford and Debra Winger. That rare misstep, and rare excursion into drama, taught Reitman a lesson. He turned down The Fisher King and The Prince of Tides because he didn’t feel comfortable with the material.
Reitman claims he has no need for the trappings of Hollywood success — his office is comfortable though hardly ostentatious, with pictures of his wife and three children prominently displayed. Just the same, he has decided to move out of his modest headquarters. Universal has just broken ground on a new office complex designed especially for him. The location is fitting. ”It’s right next to Steven’s,” he says.